WASHINGTON – Under the rule of three, a trio of characters is said to be more effective than any other number. The rule typically applies to writing – three words, three sentences, three paragraphs, for example. But you also could apply it to the Butler family, which has three members who are school bus drivers for All-Star Transportation.
Liz Butler began driving school buses in 1976, while her son Reece started driving almost four years ago, and her daughter Ayla got behind the wheel in March. All share the same house in Warren, and each morning they scatter to their different terminals – Liz in Warren, Reece in Kent and Ayla in Washington.
Liz started driving right after she graduated from high school, when state laws allowed 18-year-olds to drive a school bus. A friend helped her get a job driving for the Dufour family in Cornwall. She did that for five years and also pursued a degree in accounting at the University of Connecticut branch in Torrington. She then worked briefly as an accountant until 1983, when she got her license to drive tractor-trailers and began transporting show horses cross country. Next, it was five years working at Kimberly-Clark in New Milford, where she met her husband and had two kids before returning to school bus driving.
Her return began when she applied in New Milford with Richard Dufour and then trained in August 1996 in Washington with Tammy Gunning. Once licensed, she started driving in Warren, and Ayla, then not quite a year old, rode along with her. “All the kids wanted to sit with Ayla on the bus, so I kept a list so that they didn’t fight,” Liz recalls.
Her route in Warren is the same route her father drove for 32 years. “Driving runs in our family,” Liz says, recalling that she started driving a truck on the family farm when she was in first grade. “I just love driving,” she says, estimating that she has driven more than 1.5 million miles and is well on her way to 2 million miles.
Ayla, on the other hand, is just beginning to log her miles at age 23. She was working at an aerospace factory when she decided she needed a career change.
“I wanted to be outside and moving, rather than standing still inside,” she explains. “I always spent time with my mother driving around on a school bus when I was younger. So, I decided why not become a driver. I like that I’m always moving around, and the kids are fun.”
Reece, meanwhile, began driving three years ago. He wasn’t happy with the work he was doing in retail before joining All-Star, Liz said. “I talked him into doing this, and he’s getting good experience.”
While her children are relatively new to All-Star, Liz is one of the company’s more senior drivers. Only four others have been with the company longer. She’s not planning to stop driving, and neither is Ayla. Both find many simple pleasures in driving. Ayla likes the freedom and seeing nature, explaining, “You get to be part of life. You are out there and seeing everything.”
Liz also pointed to a benefit of school bus driving.
“The best thing in the world about driving a school bus is sunrises,” she says. “If you’re working an ordinary job, you miss the sunrises.”